In England football is a game played and watched predominantly by men. Whilst the number of women playing, watching and following the sport is rising, few can argue that the derivative culture of English Football is male orientated.
Whilst I am not going to lecture or romanticise on the male working class routes of the game, behaviours prevalent in these environments can be seen and heard across every football ground in England on match day. The territorial, ego driven passion and pride in ones team is combined with traditional banter, produce the scourge of the politically correct; the football chant.
From the jingoistic, boastful, insulting to the downright bizarre, generations of fans have grown up with the terrace chant with all the baggage attached. Even in today’s sanitised game of executive boxes, prawn sandwiches and all seater stadia, the football chant lives on.
West Ham are blowing bubbles and Chelsea are performing sexual acts with root vegetables, neither of which I hope is in any way related to what Stoke do with Delilah, or what makes the Baggies go boing.
Chants can be funny, chants can be boastful and most are filled with post watershed language, yet the ones that the media focuses on the most, are the ones that cross the boundaries of acceptable rhetoric in society.
Whilst it may seem alien in some cultures, poking fun at, and deriding others people is an important part of English culture, just look at British comedy and media, which take endless glee in knocking people down and football is no different.
The majority of these chants bear no real malice and are just words designed to play on and exploit the insecurities of the opposition.
The north insults the south; town folk insult the country folk, the rich mock the poor and the successful mock the also rans. Local rivals are merciless, callous and cruel and whilst there is little love lost, nobody cries themselves to sleep over the majority of what transpires.
This is for the most part seen as part of the charm of English football, until the TV microphones pick up on the unspoken seedy side of football culture that occasionally rears its head. Suddenly the loveable rogues of English football that make it what it is, transform into thugs and yobs worthy of scorn and our hatred.
I have heard some sickening chants connected to football (mostly in pubs around grounds and not in the stadium), chants glorifying racism, terrorism, death, violence and even genocide. Yet only a handful of occasions have I been truly horrified by what I have heard and I will not repeat it here or ever want my club’s name associated with it.
I am unsure of where the line of acceptability lies. In some cases the lines are clear, racism, terrorism and genocide are clearly unacceptable. However in other cases the balance between casual, relatively inoffensive banter based on peoples differences, and genuine hatred is not so clear.
Do any of the Manchester United fans who sing about Fernando Torres really think he is a transsexual in love with Jamie Carragher? Or that Arsene Wenger grooms young boys with sweets? No of course they don’t, these are chants not fact based allegations. These individuals who have derogatory songs about them should in some way be honoured that the time has been taken to insult them that they have got under their opponents skins.
Think about it how many good/funny anti Titus Bramble or Francis Jeffers chants can you think of, I certainly cannot think of any.
What I am trying to say is that when lines are clearly crossed action should of course be taken, but we should be careful not to tar every one with the same brush or over analyse what transpires (such as the USA chant on Saturday).
To take away the banter, rhetoric and the chanting from football would be to take the joy out of it football chants are not meant to be bold statements, but banter in a world where everyone has to watch what they say.